London, Feb. 7: The number of Indian students coming to the UK for higher studies has registered a sharp increase despite crippling fees and visa charges, it has been revealed in figures published today.
Pat Killingley, director of education services for the British Council, the government body which encourages foreign students to come to Britain studies, said that according to figures just released by Higher Education Statistics Agency, 16,727 Indian students came to the UK in 2004-05.
“This is a 14 per cent increase on 2003-04, when 14,675 came from India,” she said.
“Most of the students who come from India are postgraduate students,” she added.
The year 2003-04 also marked a 14 per cent increase on the previous year, when the Indian total was 12,774.
The figures have been creeping up since 2000-01 when the number from India had totalled 9,302. The rise had exceeded the British Council’s more modest target of between 5 and 6 per cent growth.
Killingley said: “The Indian market is quite buoyant. Most of the students from India come for science and engineering.”
The figure from India will continue to grow, partly because of a '10-million initiative announced by Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. This will be used to fund “research links between universities in India and Britain at the postgraduate level”, she said.
It is estimated that in 2003, Indian students, who had not left home, were studying courses linked to UK universities.
The council’s figures accord, more or less, with those of Kamalesh Sharma, the Indian high commissioner, who told a Republic Day celebration, held at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London: “The number of (Indian) students studying here has gone up from 3,800 five years ago to 18,000 last year, the same as in the US, despite the steep hike in the fees.”
Speaking at the same function, Lord Dholakia, the deputy leader in the House of Lords of the Liberal Democratic Party, commented: “In the olden days, educated Indians were queuing up to come to the UK. But now the biggest problem for the UK is to how to stop them from going back to India.”
Without scholarships, it is still not easy for Indians to come to the UK to study. He or she has to find '20,000 a year. Extending the visa can cost another '500.
But the British Council has a noble view, not entirely unjustified, of why it wants to maintain its educational links with India. It also feels this is a good time to promote Britain in India, against competition from the US, which has become suspicious of foreign students in the aftermath of 9/11.
Guy Roberts, spokesman for the British Council, said both India and Britain would benefit from the flow of Indian students to the UK. The students, who would be the leaders of tomorrow’s India, would return, hopefully, with a deeper and more sympathetic understanding of Britain, “people we would hope to deal with later in life”.
After 9/11, the American view of foreign students ' “even if they come to study philosophy, will they switch to flying lessons when they are here'” ' had become much more suspicious. “The British,” he said, “have been much more measured.”
Attracting foreign students has become big business. Both China and India are tempting markets for Britain.
According to one optimistic prediction, if Britain can take advantage of America’s fear of foreign students, their numbers in the UK could treble to 850,000 by 2020. That could bring in '13 billion to the British economy every year.